The basic meaning of baptism is “identification.” The word baptize means to immerse, but the concept means identification. For example, Homer wrote in B.C. 850, that soldiers would dip or “baptize” their spear tips into a bucket of pig’s blood, which identified the spear with war and death. When a rag was dipped into a bucket of dye, the rag was baptized or identified by the color of dye.
There are eight different baptisms mentioned in the Bible. There are five real baptisms and three ritual baptisms. A real baptism is where there is an actual identification of something with something else and is dry. A ritual baptism is where water is involved in some manner giving a symbolic identification.
The five real baptisms include the baptisms of Moses; Fire; Cup; Holy Spirit; and Noah. These are actually dry identifications. In other words, the person who was baptized remained dry.
First, the baptism of Moses is an identification of Israel with Moses and the Red Sea. Paul writes, “All were baptized into Moses and within the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor. 10:2) In this case, the nation of Israel went through the Red Sea on dry ground and remained dry. Who were those who got wet? The Egyptians were wet and died!
Secondly, the baptism of Fire is an identification of unbelievers with judgment and specifically judgment of unbelievers cast off the earth at the Second Advent. Matthew records, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11) The fire is God’s judgment. Unbelievers will be identified with the judgment of fire. There is no water involved.
Thirdly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the identification of the Church Age believer into the body of Christ. This is a salvation ministry of the Holy Spirit entering the believer into union with Christ in the body of Christ. Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free– and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13) It is what unites all Church Age believers together (Eph. 4:5). This did not occur in the Old Testament. It began as one of the mystery truths of the Church Age. Paul writes,
26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which1 is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27)
This baptism is what provides equality in God’s family,
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)
Fourthly, the baptism of the Cup identified Jesus with the cross. Jesus said to his disciples,
38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized. (Mark 10:38-39)
Jesus warned the disciples that they too would be identified with the cross by dying to themselves, although not on the cross Jesus was hung. In His humanity, Jesus did not desire the cross, but was willing to accept the Father’s will and go to the cross. He said, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) God the Father identified with Jesus all the sins of the world and Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
Fifthly, the baptism of Noah was an identification of Noah’s family with Noah on the Ark. Peter records for us,
spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited1 in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
21There is also an antitype which now saves us– baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 3:19-21)
Those who were baptized into Noah remained dry on the Ark and those who became wet died.
There are also three ritual baptisms in which literal water represents something else. First, there is the baptism of Jesus, in which the water represented the Father’s plan and the baptism symbolized Jesus’ commitment to fulfill God’s plan. It began the public ministry of Jesus. Matthew records this baptism,
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He1 saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17)
Secondly, the baptism of John was identification of John’s converts with the Kingdom of God and the water represented the kingdom. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptizeyou with the Holy Spirit and fire.(Matt. 3:11)
Thirdly, believer’s baptism is identification of the convert with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The water represents the Body of Christ and burial of the old self. Luke records in Acts, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:41)
Baptism is a one-time event, symbolizing one death and one resurrection to walk in newness of life. Communion is the other ordinance in the church that is done repeatedly, in order to look back, look at the present and look forward. Communion remembers the death of Christ, encourages fellowship with the saints and declares Christ’s death until He comes.